1978 world all-around champion Yelena Mukhina died Friday evening in Moscow. Mukhina was 46.
No cause of death was announced for Mukhina, who had been paralyzed by a training accident in 1980.
Born in Moscow on June 6, 1960, Mukhina was orphaned at age 5 when her mother died in an apartment fire. Cared for by her grandmother, Mukhina grew up with dreams of being a gymnast. One day a coach appeared in her classroom and asked any girls interested in trying gymnastics to raise their hands. "I nearly cried with happiness," she later recalled.
In 1974, Mukhina began working with men's coach Mikhail Klimenko. She won the Soviet junior national title in 1976, but was not in contention for the Olympic team after a 12th place finish at the USSR Cup.
1977 was Mukhina's breakout year, both domestically and internationally. She placed second all-around at the Soviet Championships and the USSR Cup. At the European Championships, she finished second all-around to Nadia Comaneci and won gold medals on the uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise. At the World Cup, she won gold medals on the uneven bars and balance beam.
Mukhina was the star of the 1978 World Championships in Strasbourg, France, where she won five medals including the all-around title. In Strasbourg she impressed with her difficulty, including a full-twisting Korbut on the uneven bars and a double back dismount off beam. She was the first female to tumble a full-twisting double back on floor exercise, where she won a third gold medal.
In 1979, Mukhina placed fourth all-around, first on uneven bars and second on beam at the European Championships. Later that year she suffered a broken leg that kept her out of the world championships. Mukhina continued to train before the injury had completely healed, eventually needing surgery to repair the leg.
On July 3, 1980, Mukhina was in Minsk training for the Olympic Games in Moscow. She was attempting a Thomas salto (full-twisting 1 3/4 tumbling pass) on floor exercise when she came up short. She landed on her chin and snapped her spine, leaving her a partial quadriplegic.
Though Mukhina rarely gave interviews, she was vocally critical of the Soviet sports system and others involved in her training. She repeatedly described her accident as "inevitable" because of the conditions under which she trained — exhausted and injured.
"There are such concepts as the honor of the club, the honor of the team, the honor of the national squad, the honor of the flag. They are words behind which the person isn't perceived," she said in 1988. "I was injured because everyone around me was observing neutrality and keeping silent. After all, they saw that I wasn't ready to perform that element. But they kept quiet."
A funeral has been planned for Dec. 27.